since when? >>tonight on "nightline," just a little while ago, the first faceoff between republican nominee mitt romney and president barack obama, with only 34 days to go before the election. did someone win the great debate? making the grade. they advised george w. bush, al gore and sarah palin before their famous debates. with the stakes so high, what marks do our political insiders give these candidates? we'll tell you, in the "nightline" report card. and, what's your percent? are you in the 47%? what does it take to be in the 1% of the 1%? this year, the percentage has taken on a life of its own, and
we get right to the point. >> announcer: from the global resources of abc news, with terry moran, cynthia mcfadden and bill weir in new york city, this is a special edition of "nightline," one-on-one, the candidates debate, october 3rd, 2012. >> good evening, i'm terry moran. tonight, a high stakes showdown as president barack obama and mitt romney took the stage in denver to go head to head for the first time. an estimated 60 million americans tuned in to watch this critical moment in an often contentious presidential campaign with the election just 34 days away. crucial swing voters still undecided. with romney trailing in the polls, time running short, tonight could be his turning point. here's how it went down. they came out, shook hands, ready for the main event. but president obama began soft, very soft. a shoutout to the first lady. >> i just want to wish, sweetie, you happy anniversary and let you know that a year from now,
we will not be celebrating it in front of 40 million people. >> romney graciously followed suit with an easy quip. >> congratulations to you, mr. president, on your anniversary. i'm sure this was the most romantic place you could imagine, here with me. >> reporter: and then they got down to business. the subject, jobs. romney took it to the president from the get-go. >> middle income families are being crushed. >> reporter: it was clear and direct and aggressive. romney seemed hon his game and ready for a fight. hammering away at the grim economic track record of the last four years. >> when the president took office, 32 million people on food stamps. 47 million on foot stamp today. economic growth this year, slower than last year. and last year, slower than the year before. going forward with the stat us can quo is not going to cut it for the american people who are struggling today. >> reporter: president obama seemed, at first, to wander a bit, but found his footing with an answer that slammed romney as the heir of failed trickle-down economics. >> math, common sense and our
history shows us that's not a recipe for job growth. look, we've tried this, the approach that governor romney is talking about is the same sales pitch that was made in 2001 and 2003 and ill culminated in the worst financial crisis. >> reporter: romney spoke directly to the president in his answers. obama spoke mostly to the moderator, jim lehrer of pbs. >> we still have trillion dollar deficits. the cbo says we'll have a trillion dollar deficit each of the next four years. >> reporter: these two men, they are virtually strangers to each other personally. they've only met in person three times before tonight. most recently, in passing, on a debate stage in new hampshire way back in 2008, when republicans followed democrats in debate three days before the primaries. and there was this brief encounter on the campaign trail in 2007. >> good luck to you today. >> reporter: and while they have both reached the pinnacle of
party politics, they are so different. their talents and their paths to power and their debate styles. so much at stake on that stage tonight. this showdown comes at what might be the critical moment in this campaign. a hinge of political history. polls show the race tightening, just 34 days left in this campaign. and you can already sense in the crowds the special energy of the home stretch. but tonight, surprisingly, and in contrast to the daily scrap on the trail, no zingers, no roundhouse punches. hardly any humor. instead, long answers, sometimes dense arguments. the president struggled to score points on what polls show is romney's biggest vulnerability. most voters believe he favors the rich. and obama tried to portray the romney/ryan plan for medicare in that light. >> when you move to a voucher system, you are putting seniors at the mercy of those insurance companies.
and over time, if traditional medicare has decayed or fallen apart, then they're stuck. >> reporter: for his part, romney zeroed in on what may be obama's big vulnerability, the unpopularity of his health care plan and the sense that he took his eye off the economic ball when he pushed for it. >> i just don't know how the president could have come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table and spend his energy and passion for two years fighting for obama care instead of fighting for jobs for the american people. >> reporter: president obama and governor romney have been battling it out on the stump, barnstorming the swing states and flooding the air waves with increasingly negative ads. >> obama quietly ended work requirements for welfare. you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. >> reporter: in the cross hairs, on the stump and in the obama ads -- >> 47% of people -- >> reporter: that infamous tape of romney seeming to write off
millions of americans. >> who believe that they're entitled to health care and food. >> reporter: but astonishingly in the debate tonight, those comments never came up. obama declined an opportunity, or simply whiffed, when given the chance, when he was asked a broad question on the role of government. he ended up talking about, well, something. >> in the middle of the civil war, abraham lincoln said, let's help to finance the transcontinental railroad. >> reporter: romney's response was clear, practiced and forcibly delivered. >> we have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people and that means the military, second to none. >> reporter: at the end, they shook hands and then, a moment offing toness. the obamas and the romneys on stage. but even as they were enjoying a little bipartisanship, both sides began spinning and readying for the next round. two more rounds ahead. just ahead, in our program, who made the grade? who missed the mark?
the experts who prepped sarah palin and george w. bush for their debates tell us how they scored tonight's candidates for a "nightline" report card. yeah, i'm looking to save, but i'm not sure which policy is right for me. you should try our coverage checker. it helps you see if you have too much coverage or not enough, making it easier to get what you need. [ beeping ] these are great! [ beeping ] how are you, um, how are you doing? i'm going to keep looking over here. probably a good idea. ken: what's a good idea? nothing. with coverage checker, it's easy to find your perfect policy. visit progressive.com today. those little things for you, life's about her. but your erectile dysfunction - that could be a question of blood flow. cialis tadalafil for daily use helps you be ready anytime the moment's right. you can be more confident
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>> announcer: this special edition of "nightline," one-on-one, the candidates debate, continues from new york city with terry moran. >> so, let's turn to the "nightline" report card, who won, who lost? we've got three campaign veterans to talk to about that, nicolle wallace, senior adviser for sarah palin and john mccain. donna brazile, served as campaign manager for al gore and chief strategist for george w. bush, matt dowd. let's start with the style points, giving them the grades.
that's easy to look at. start with mitt romney. grade him, nicole? >> a. >> reporter: donna. >> c. >> reporter: matt? >> b. i'm a very tough a. >> reporter: why did you give romney an a? >> debates are about expectations. and i think on style, romney didn't get tripped up in any of his awkward moments that he's become pretty well known for on the campaign trail, so, in my mind, he was testellar. he connected. and i thought he communicated a very clear and strategic and thematic case. and i think that leads into substance. >> reporter: style, you gave him a c? >> he looked good, but overall i thought that he was just a little bit too aggressive, a little bit too attack, attack, attack. >> reporter: he's got the mt. ru rushmore look. you gave him a b? >> he came in with a plan and he came -- he came in to win. he came here tonight to win.
a boxer walking into a ring, knowing he's behind and he needs to win and he fought that fought. so, stylistically, he put the president on the defensive a number of times. a b. i'm a hard a, but a b is very good. >> reporter: all right, so, the president comes out there, he's the president, got the trappings of the office around him. on style, how do you grade him? >> a b. >> reporter: b. >> i gave him a b. >> c. >> reporter: let's go to the tough grader here. >> the president walked into the ring saying, i'm going to play for a draw. if i get a tie, i can go home and i still got a lead. when you do that against a challenger, especially a challenger that is punching you, there was no counterpun. on the president's part. he took this race from a decent lead to basically a tied race was baus ecause of his style. >> reporter: in 2000, he was cool, everybody liked that, it suited the moment. this sometitime, he seemed a li detached at times. i thought that's why i gave him a b in terms of style.
at times when nit romney was interrupted the moderator, he should have said, you know, let jim set the room. >> reporter: i thought you would have been tougher on him. >> by the end of it, he wasn't worthy of a b. but because i went through this for an incumbent president who really flubbed his way through a debate in 2004, first debate against kerry, it was cringe worthy and maybe i was having some sort of ptsd 'empathy moment. >> reporter: let's go to substance. a lot of facts and figures. substance for governor romney. >> a. >> i gave him a b, maybe. >> reporter: and? >> b, b plus. >> reporter: why? >> i think they both came into this, but i think mitt romney came in, he had specifics that he wanted to talk about. he went through it through his plans, economic plans and fairly substantive detail. i think he came through the debate, anybody watching this says, he knows what he's talking
about. he's got a plan. >> he pivoted. he was all over the map. what romney said last week and tonight, there was a disconnect at times. >> reporter: but the president didn't pick up on that? >> i stand corrected. i gave him a b. i stand corrected. i gave him a b. with the style, it was a theme, a smooth. i thought with the substance he had more explaining to do and i don't think he always had enough time to flush out his hanses. >> reporter: so, the president's got the record to defend. on substance? how do you grade the president? >> i gave the president a c. >> b plus. he has a wonderful mind. >> b, i give him the same grade as romney. i think they both came in here it was a substantive debate. very fact-based. a lot of tough talked about. i think substantively the real difference was style. substance, i think they were roughly equal. >> reporter: what about to donna's point that mitt romney has been very deft over the years at taking various positions here and there. people have called it
flip-flopping. not a lot of counterpunching from the president. >> i think they made a decision a month or so ago that they did not want to use that as the prosecution of mitt romney. one of the reasons they didn't want to do it, it sends a signal to moderates, all the crazy positi positions, he flip-flop to our position. they decided not to do that because it gives him an out. >> i gave him a b on an area where he should have gotten an a-plus. on the substance, he could have had mitt romney eating his lunch. on the role of government, i don't think the president had a good answer. >> reporter: finally, bottom line, who won? nicole? >> mitt romney. >> i'm sticking with barack obama. >> reporter: surprise. >> mitt romney. he comes away with this. he's going to tie the race back up. 30-day race coming at it. it's going to be close. >> reporter: matt, donna, nicole, thank you for joining us. that's the "nightline" report card. just ahead, while president obama failed to make any mention of mitt romney's 47% comment tonight, that doesn't mean this debate wasn't a numbers game.
we're going to unravel this campaign's war of the percentages. how can you get back pain relief that lasts up to 16 hours? with thermacare heatwraps. thermacare works differently. it's the only wrap with patented heat cells that penetrate deep to relax, soothe, and unlock tight muscles. for up to 16 hours of relief, try thermacare.
to relax, soothe, and unlock tight muscles. number of students that wea lot of problehave.th the... resources. materials. things that the children need... on a day-to-day basis. anncr: question seven will help. the department of legislative services says question seven... will mean hundreds of millions of dollars... for schools...fromaming revenues that would have... gone to other states. and independent audits will guarantee the money... goes where it's supposed to. krystal conwell: i think people should vote for question... seven because i think it will be a great benefit to children. barack obama and the liberals already have. to pay for government-run healthcare, you'll pay higher taxes and more for your medicine. and their plan includes a trillion dollars in higher taxes. even on the middle class. mitt romney and common sense conservatives will cut taxes on the middle class. and they'll close loopholes for millionaires.
making waves the past few weeks, mitt romney's controversial 47% comments, con speck wasly absent tonight. that doesn't mean the percentage didn't get its due, because it's become this year's hot political pep of choice and abc's david wright is doing the math. >> reporter: in this year of rotten economic news, unemployment at 8%, economic growth, less than 2%, deficit up 54% in four years, 60% say we're on the wrong track. the challenger ought to have a pretty good argument. >> middle income americans have been buried. they're just being crushed. >> reporter: but this year, mitt romney wrapped up a gift for barack obama. >> 47% of people who will vote for the president no matter what. >> reporter: a clanger behind closed doors at a fund-raiser, where he seemed to write off half the electorate at moochers and cheaters. that's put romney on the defensive right when he was hoping to close the deal. >> this is a campaign about the 100%.
>> reporter: campaigns always have slogans and statistics. >> the 53% or the 47%. >> reporter: but this year, instead of hope or change or even experience, it's a math lesson. >> 1% of the 99%. >> reporter: the statistics are the slogan. >> do you want four more years with unemployment above 8%? >> reporter: both candidates are playing the percentages. >> i think everybody tries to get their points made in quick, easy, short, memorable sound bites and percentages help do that. >> reporter: challenger trying to paint the incumbent as mr. 8.2%. >> people are trapped in a bad economy. >> reporter: the incumbent, trying to paint the challenger as mr. 47%. >> i'm barack obama, and i approve this message. >> reporter: fat cat from the 1% who paid just 14% in his taxes. who you like in this final jeopardy round probably depends on which percent your in. do you even know?
well, unless you earn more than $380,000 a year, you're officially part of the 99%. rock stars and athletes? they're just 1% of the 1%. wall street wizards, just 14% of the 1%. in fact, the 1% includes nearly twice as many doctors and lawyers. albert einstein said genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work. and the same is probably true for politics. at tonight's debate, a blizzard of percents. >> 93% of the businesses are not taxed at the 35% tax rate. >> reporter: all these perce percents -- >> it's mast. >> reporter: intended to make politics seem like facts that can't be argued with. >> like a sports analogy. it's odds, percentage chances. people have those percentages in their mind. they know their take-home pay. things that apply in their own life. >> reporter: but too many percents and you risk sounds like yogi berra, who said
baseball is 90% physical, the other half is mental. a recent survey showed 42% of americans don't believe the polls. bottom line, percents don't always make sense. keep in mind, tonight, both candidates looked like they were addressing the 100%. but really, they're vying for a much smaller piece of the pie. really, they're trying to capture the undecided voters in the swing states who happen to be watching. that's not the 99%, not even the 47%. but that tiny fraction will end up deciding who won. >> if you want to focus on a percentage in this election that matters the most, it's 4% of the people that are undecided who are still waivering back and forth. >> reporter: and to these guys, that might be the most important percent of all. i'm david wright for "nightline." >> thanks to david wright for that. thank you for watching abc news. we them you check in for "good morning america."